Starved Rock State Park

It was a great day for a weekend excursion to Starved Rock State Park near Utica, Illinois. The Chicago forecast was for mostly cloudy skies and temperatures near 70; but Utica, about 60 miles west experienced cloudless skies and temperatures into the mid 70's.

Starved Rock got it's name from an event that took place between the Illiniwek Indians and Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes in the 1700's. Pontiac, chief of the Ottawa tribe, was killed by the Illiniwek. Battles began to avenge his death and a group of Illiniwek Indians climbed up the sandstone cliff now known as Starved Rock to seek refuge. The Ottawa and Potawatomi tribes surrounded them and fought until the Illiniwek group starved to death.

The views from the top of Starved Rock, Lover's Leap and other buttes are great, but the hike to get to them is difficult if you have a toddler with a stroller!


The Illinois River runs along the edge of the park, providing great views, fishing and the reason Fort St. Louis was established by the French on top of Starved Rock in 1682-83. It's easy to see why this point was chosen, the butte allows views both up and down the river for miles.


This is a definite destination for our next Summer, Fall and Winter hiking, the canyons, streams and waterfalls (after a rain) are great.

Pear Tree Blossoms

Our pear tree is finally in bloom. Each bloom is smaller than a dime, but when the tree is in bloom, the "odd", not too pleasant (but not horrible) fragrance can be detected for a long way.
These photos were taken around 7:00 pm, just as the last rays of sunshine washed over the tree.


US Senator Durbin Visits

Photo by T. Gill

United States Senator Richard Durbin (D IL) spoke with College students and staff this morning at North Central. His main topic was his legislation to reduce college loan interest rates and to reinstate the option for students to consolidate existing loans for lower interest rates.

Senator Durbin was gracious and remained positive as he encouraged students to use the internet to research the topic and to get involved by contacting their own Senators and Congressmen.


Somewhere along US 31 between Indianapolis and Kokomo Indiana, John G. found this fancy little restaurant and gas station.

Kind of makes you hungry, doesn't it?

Thanks for the photo, John!

Cypress Gardens Waterskiing


Here are some of the talented waterskiers that performed at Cypress Gardens in 1965.



A Solitary Bloom

First Sign of Spring

The daffodils made an appearance this weekend.

Silver Springs 1965

Florida's original themepark - Silver Springs shown here back in 1965. As I understand it, this park opened in the late 1800s when people from up north flocked to see the "unusual" tropical beauty of Florida. The area was settled by local Indians in the 1500s but the Spanish invaded in 1539 lead by DeSoto looking for wealth. A wooden boat still exists from this time -I believe - at the bottom of the river. It can be seen today while riding in one of the famous Glass-Bottom Boats. You can check out the history of the park here.

It seems that Silver Springs had a relatively popular beach area in the 60s (photo above) I don't recall seeing that on my last visit, but the park has expanded to included a waterpark and music venue.

I've always enjoyed the peaceful and relaxing atmosphere of Silver Springs, it's like stepping back in time to when Florida was unexploited and unspoiled. When you're on the Silver River, it's hard to imagine how someone actually found the river. The trees and plants are so thick it's difficult to see 50 feet ahead; not to mention chopping through the thick undergrowth
in the blazing Florida sun to create a trail for the expedition.

Silver Springs



Rose of Sharon buds blanketed with early morning snow

Bush Gardens 1965

Before the installation of countless thrill rides, Bush Gardens was just what the name implied- a garden. Here are some photos of the park when all you saw were beautiful gardens, a brewery and a few flamingos!



Bush Gardens once claimed to have the world's tallest escalator; it was high, take a look:

While visiting Bush Gardens in 1995, I don't recall seeing too many of the lush gardens- without rollercoasters running through them - but today it seems that most Florida attractions need to provide more than just pretty scenery to attract visitors.

Kapok Tree Elegance

The Kapok Tree Inn of Clearwater, Florida was a wonderful restaurant and banquet hall elaborately decorated with lush gardens inside and out including statues and fountains beautiful enough for a European palace.

Here we see some of the gardens outside in 1977.

The name Kapok Tree Inn came from the huge Kapok tree that grew right next to the original restaurant that was founded by a New York couple in the late 1950's by the name of Baumgardner. The Restaurant grew into the opulent Inn you see here.

This photo of the Kapok tree was taken in 1965, before the building expanded and before a fence was erected to protect the tree. Kapok trees produce a fiber similar to cotton that was used- because of it's buoyancy- for flotation devices such as life vests for boaters.

The tree still stands today (923 N McMullen Booth Rd) and can be seen from a mile or more, but the Kapok Tree Inn is no more. Mrs. Baumgardner sold her interests in the company in the 1980's and the Inn became a large music store with one of the old gardens still open to the public, but not kept up the way it once was. The pianos and other instruments are arranged in the former banquet rooms and the hallways are lined with the dry fountains of yesteryear. It was truly a disappointment when I last visited in 2000. Last I heard it the name changed to Sam Ash Music.

Does anyone still have any glassware from the Kapok Tree Inn?

Tarpon Springs Sponge Operations

Tarpon Springs, Florida was once called the "Sponge capital of the World" for good reason. Natural sponge harvesting and processing was a major operation along the waterfront of the Anclote river. Today, you can still walk along the river bank and watch fishing and sponge boats come and go, but in the 1980's the sponge operation practically disappeared.

As a child in the early 1970's, I recall walking by the spongedocks watching sponge divers preparing for a dive. They would wear large diving suits with lead shoes to keep the divers from floating to the surface. Here's an old diver from the early 1970's taking a rest.

After the sponges were gathered and brought back to shore, the crew of each boat had to trim and clean the sponges. This was done either on the boat while it was moored, or on the dock itself.

After cleaning, the sponges were taken to the Sponge Exchange where they were sold or auctioned. I can remember the pungent odor of the drying sponges that were stored in the cells of the sponge exchange.


In the 1980's The Sponge Exchange was converted into a small, outdoor mall with only one or two of the original "cells" still in existence.

The Original Louis Pappas Restaurant

The original Louis Pappas Restaurant in Tarpon Springs was a far cry from the one you see today. This rather modest restaurant was a frequent stop for many northerners visiting the Tampa Bay area. Located across the street from the Anclote river sponge docks, the restaurant was right in the middle of "mom and pop" gift shops famous for selling sponges, shells, canned Flordia sunshine and anything else you could print the word "Florida" on.
This photo was taken in 1972, a few years before Pappas built a brand new restaurant right on the sponge docks on the corner of Dodeconese and Alternate 19. The new restaurant was ultra modern for 1975, and would seat over 1000 people.

With the shell of the building complete, you can see how the new Louis Pappas looked in 1975, just a few months before opening up.

It looks the same today.

Time for a Snowman!

Chicago didn't get too much snow this year, so when it snowed today, the kids were out to build a quick snowman or two.

More of Six Gun Territory 1965

Somewhere between Silver Springs and Ocala Florida, there once was an old western town called Six Gun Territory.
Here we see the Hitching Post at Six Gun Territory in Florida. Like most things in this theme park, the horse was not real, but the gunfights were certainly a realistic event.

Men walking through town moments before a well rehersed gunfight.

Cypress Gardens 1965

I loved Cypress Gardens in the 1970's. Lush gardens, beautiful Southern Belles, and remarkable water ski shows in Winterhaven, Florida. With the introduction of Disney World in the early 70's, Florida garden parks began to dwindle. People were ready for a new kind of entertainment - my guess is they figured tropical plants were common, why pay to see them?

Here's a shot of the water ski show in 1965. Note that the spectators sat on the grass. This was before the grandstand (if that's what they call it) was built.

A close up of the skiers in one of their famous formations.

I know Cypress Gardens closed a couple of years ago, and rumor had it that they might sell to a developer. Well, it's still a theme park, and the Southern Belles and water ski shows have survived!

Thanks for the photos dad!

Find out here:

coming soon:
Silver Springs
Sunken Gardens
Weeki Wachee

My New Mr. Toast Photo Blog!

Mr. Toast is a lovable little charactor whom I will be photographing from time to time. Creator Dan Goodsell had a photo contest and I was one of the winners, so I won a Mr. Toast doll to photograph doing all sorts of things.

Check out my Mr. Toast Photo Blog
every so often to find out where Mr. Toast has been!

Happy Birthday Danny!

Saturday, February 25th was Danny's second birthday, and (because they are so close) it was the combined birthday party for Dan and Mike.

Mike will be 4 in a few weeks.

They are both pictured above with their brother Chris singing "Happy Birthday"

More photos soon on my web page -check it out over the next few days.

Today Is John's Birthday!

It's John's birthday today, Friday, February 24th!

Happy Birthday!

Six Gun Territory

As the sign says, between Silver Springs and Ocala Florida, there once was a place called "Six Gun Territory." This park had an old west theme and from the looks of the photos, was pretty much a ghost town. Perhaps it was the time of year (April) and there weren't many tourists around.

These photos were taken around 1965. The weather looked great, and the park looked well maintained. I don't have any idea when the park opened or what year it closed, but if you're interested, you can look here at this web site:

More tomorrow!